I have to tell you what happened on the bus ride home tonight. I’m still in shock, reeling actually. But hold on. Unless I set the stage properly and arc this story effectively you will not understand. I need to bring you not only into my head but also into my heart.
As most of you know, I’ve been autoless since returning to Canada two and a half years ago. I miss the ease of driving terribly, but am resigned to taking public transit. There are environmental benefits and money is saved. However, this mode of travel is not without issues for us simple folk.
I ride a city bus, sea bus, or sky train (what Vancouver calls a subway) a lot, maybe daily, and for no less than 30 minutes one-way, usually. Half of the time, regardless of how carefully I time my trips, I end up on the same shaking tin can as a quarter of the entire population of this city. Crammed together tighter than sardines, we all try desperately to maintain some semblance of dignity and personal space. Both pursuits are fruitless, mind you, but we all try anywho.
I do my utmost to be grateful, to appreciate the life I’m creating here, but there are days when it is too much work. It’s like I’ve been swimming upstream for years but don’t have the muscles to show for it.
Today, I bussed to visit a friend. We spent the better part of six hours commiserating the foibles of travel here. Tyrannical oligarchies and the vastness of ancestry charts were also discussed.
When it came time to head for home, I jumped on a bus only to jump off that bus near a fab vegan restaurant I like. I ate and moseyed the five steps to the next bus stop I needed where I waited under the canopy for the Number 9 Boundary. Easy.
I was looking the other way when an express bus passed but I heard the young couple who had joined me under the plexiglass shelter speak with concern. They were obviously unfamiliar with this route so I explained briefly that they were in the right place after they told me where they wanted to go.
They boarded the Number 9 with me. There were two seats left. I took one, the young woman, the other. The young man remained standing to her right.
As they didn’t have far to go, I figured it couldn’t hurt to be friendly, ask them where they were from, were they on holiday, that kind of thing. After all, ignoring someone you’re rubbing knees and elbows with is kind of silly.
She was pretty with jet black hair, porcelain white skin, and huge bluish eyes. Her fashion style bordered on goth but not an extreme version. He wore a khaki coloured bomber jacket and faded black jeans. There was no hint of goth about him. They were both soft spoken and pleasant with warm smiles. I thought they were adorable.
When the young woman said they were here to visit her mother who was in the hospital, I extended my sympathies and immediately asked if it was serious. I fully expected her to say, “No, not serious. Routine” or something along those lines, but she did not. She told me it was serious. Very, very serious. The young man kept nodding in agreement.
I can’t recall in this instance if I said something more, or if my face asked the question that was in my head.
“Mom injured her C 1.” I interrupted. “Oh, she’s broken her back.” The young woman responded immediately and I heard the young man speak, too. “No, it’s her neck. She’s broken her neck and is fully paralysed.” I’m positive my mouth opened. “But she’s alive. Most don’t survive an injury like hers. The paramedics did CPR for 45 minutes and kept her heart beating. She was in a coma. We thought she was brain dead, but thankfully, she was not. She came around. We’re lucky. We have her and that’s what matters. We will take care of her somehow. There’s four of us. (I had wrongly assumed the young man was her boyfriend.) My other brother and sister have been here since the accident but had to go home. We’ll stay for a while. She’s alive. We didn’t lose her. People have raised money for us so we can stay until we figure this out. She has us. We will take care of her now.”
I wanted to weep. I wanted to take their hands and hold them tight and cry and cry and tell them what beautiful spirits they have; how proud their mother must be and how genuine, good, and full of positivity they are. I prayed for them to be given the grace needed to weather what is going to be an incredibly stormy life. I prayed that they are able to hold on to the love I saw shining from them tonight.
Their mother is 52. She looks much like the beautiful young woman seated beside me. She fell down a flight and stairs and will never get up again. She will never again breathe on her own, wave at her children, or dress herself. She will never again feed herself. To stay alive, she will require round the clock help from machines and from lots of people.
But she is alive and there are four people who are very, very glad.
My brain is still trying to wrap itself around their lives and what their story means to me. I am processing a ton of emotion. However, it’s time for me to stop the words, quiet the thoughts, and simply rest with the feelings.
And so, I will end with a simple wish by channelling the brilliant Victor Hugo who wrote these words for a dying Jean Val Jean in the classic “Les Miserables”.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Until tomorrow, dear ones.